Readings for (Proper 5) Second Sunday after Pentecost 10 June 2007 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Second Sunday after Pentecost Proper 5C / Ordinary 10C / Pentecost +2 Textweek

I Kings 17:8-16, 17-24; Psalm 146; Galatians 1:11-24; Luke 7:11-17

What is asked of us in today’s readings? Too tricky. What is revealed to us in today’s readings? What is it that we’ve just listened to, what have we heard and how have we received that which we’ve just heard? Three resurrection stories: the widow of Zarephath’s son raised from the dead, the short version of ‘Paul, this is your life’ and then the widow of Nain’s son raised from the dead. Out of the three, the two that really grab our attention are the two that have a physical resurrection; they grab our attention because these are the miracles. It would be so easy to preach, I’m sure is so easy to preach if one is a fundamentalist Christian. Today’s readings through those eyes are all about the power of God. Two miracles: God, he did it. These are two stories of God working his miracles. Well, if that’s so why does God leave 40,000 children to die today? And why just these two characters from history to demonstrate his mighty power?

I believe, I certainly hope, that there’s a part in each of us that says, ‘No’, a part that wants and desires more than a god who can intervene when he wants to. And maybe we also have to recognise a part of us also that wants to say, ‘Yes, God can do these things’, because if we fail to recognise the part of us that wants a god that can do these things we might be tempted into staying with that notion forever: ‘Yes, God can do it all, and so it lets me off, I don’t have to, because I have faith that God will’. It’s interesting that since these narratives were written and since the early interpretation of stories like this as stories of miracles and God’s mighty power, we’ve actually progressed quite a long way and we’ve learnt a lot on the way.

In the world of quantum mechanics that sits on the edge of theoretical physics, what religious fundamentalists call miracles are turning out to be the stuff of the everyday. What the fundamentalist thinks is the power of God being turned on and off, is turning out to be the very nature of life, the very nature, the natural phenomenon of our being. We are, in the quantum world, dead and/or alive, and the actuality is only realised in the moment of observation. I think that’s stunning! Together with the physicists, some theologians are also reconsidering the very nature of time – amazingly after all these years, we join with the mystics and we begin to evolve an understanding of time that is not linear. We are discovering the context of eternity and so the context of life. We’re finding, evolving a framework of understanding for life, for death, for after-life, for before life.
What is asked of us today and every day is to hear and to attend to the word of God, in scripture and in the moment, but with our full critical faculties, not to see these stories as the retelling of the fairy stories that we heard in our primary years. The three readings that we’ve heard this morning narrate a process. They tell of movement, of energy, of orientation; they tell of belief, of faith and of the everyday encounter with the divine. When one goes overseas, I’m always reminded of the time when I lived overseas and if anyone said, ‘What do you know about Australia?’ I’d have said, ‘Kangaroos and cricket’. You can go pretty well anywhere in the world and ask people, ‘What do you know about Australia?’ and they’ll say ‘Kangaroos and cricket’. And do you know what, that’s all they know. Unless you come here, and you find out there’s a bit more about Australia. That’s our understanding of the Bible: unless you actually go there, unless you actually go to that place and live it, all we will ever know about the Word of God is kangaroos and cricket, smoke and miracles. There’s much more.

The stories we hear today speak of possibility, they speak of potential, they speak of change, they speak of life, the activity of creation, the divine activity that is born in love, they speak of that activity in us, of our birthing into the process, our participation in the work of God.

There’s no definitive answer to the questions that today’s stories raise. I actually like that - resurrection stories raise questions! It’s really quite good. If there was an answer to it, if I could do the 24/7 TV evangelist now and tell you what these stories mean, then we would know God. But as it is, we seek and we desire to know God. We can pretend that we’re full of the knowledge of God, but that’s the fairy story - I heard that story when I was five, of the miracles, the power of God. Yes, we can pretend that’s it, but it isn’t, because deep within there’s something that we seek, something that we desire: both here now in our life and beyond that, there’s a more.

So in our seeking and desiring the divine, let’s have a look at the context of the narratives. We don’t have to go very far to pick up some clues. Why, in the two resurrection stories that we’ve heard, why is it the sons of widows are resurrected? It’s an obvious question. And here we find a clue to the process of life that these stories are about. Without her son, the widow would be destitute, her life would end. If the widow loses the son, there isn’t a National Health Service, there isn’t all those other institutional safety nets: she loses her son, she becomes destitute, she will die. What we find is that as we receive life from the divine, so too we bring life and give life to others. Stunningly simple process, illustrating those narratives: as we receive life from the divine, so too we bring or give life to others. When we turn away from the divine as the source of life, the process goes the other way round: 40000 children will die of starvation, because I choose a life from somewhere else, I choose a life for myself, not a life lived in the divine, just me.

That’s what Paul saw, the story of Paul that was in the middle of those two miracle stories. That was Paul’s Damascus realisation. It changed his life, it changed his orientation and it changed his actions. We abide in God and God abides in us. We live in the abundance of creation. That little bit in the first story about ‘make me a cake of flour and oil’ - what we get there is a contrast between the paradigm of abundance – ‘I tell you that the oil and the flour will not will not run out until it rains’ – the paradigm of abundance contrasted with a world of doubt-filled scarcity – ‘this is all I’ve got, I’m just about to go home and bake a cake with the last of what I’ve got and die’. I’m hanging on to what I’ve got until I die. They’re two completely different worldviews. What we find when we attend to the stories, when we go into them, when we seek that which is our deepest desire, what we find is that we can and should expect miracles - acts of divine transformation - as we align ourselves with a life that accepts itself, myself, as a being of divine creation. If I can find that place within and honour that place within, then what the fairytales spoke of as miracles will actually be the accepted, the normal paradigm of life in which we live.

Let’s forget the fairytales that we were given, they’re there to introduce us, to tempt us. When we had the understanding of children they were fine, let’s now go beyond them, let’s realise that they spoke of a delightful world filled with promise and with a divine power. They spoke of a world that looks different to the world we see with our eyes. The Feast of Corpus Christi is quite often celebrated with a focus on the body and blood of Christ - the body and the blood, the seen and the unseen, one giving life to the other, one holding the other, sustaining the other.

Let us be aware of the divine life that we desire, the desire that’s clouded. It’s clouded with shopping; it’s clouded with the next television show, the film I must see, the place I must go. It’s clouded. Where is our deepest desire, the desire for life and being fully alive? Let us look forward together to participating in the miracles.

Peter Humphris